JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) - An already unusual Missouri presidential selection process is getting a new wrinkle with several counties moving local caucuses from St. Patrick's Day to alternative dates.
Missouri Republicans in most counties will hold a presidential caucus at 10 a.m. on March 17. However, Republicans in Jackson County and St. Louis city plan to meet a week later on March 24. Republicans in Phelps County, which is home to Rolla, still plan to caucus on St. Patrick's Day but will start at 2 p.m. The later presidential caucuses should avoid conflicts with St. Patrick's Day festivities.
In addition, Wayne County in southeastern Missouri is scheduled to caucus March 16 and rural Chariton County in central Missouri is scheduled to meet March 15. Andrea Rice, the chairwoman for the GOP committee in Chariton County, said Monday the caucus date was changed to coincide with a Republican dinner.
"We thought it would pull more people in," Rice said.
Requests to change county caucus dates are considered by the state Republican Party chairman.
Missouri's presidential selection process is different this year. The state held a primary Feb. 7, but the results were not binding for Republicans. The state party decided to use a caucus process to determine presidential delegates because the primary was too early under national party rules.
This is the first time since 1996 that Missouri Republicans have used caucuses to award presidential delegates. During the GOP's annual conference in Kansas City this weekend, hundreds of local activists received training on how to coordinate county caucuses - covering everything from how to advertise the meeting to the need to arrange for a podium and two microphones. Local officials were instructed to lock the doors at the beginning of the caucus to ensure no one can enter after the start.
Missouri has no official party registration so anyone can participate in the county caucuses, though people will be asked to affirm that they are a "strong and faithful Republican."
The county caucuses will select delegates for the congressional district conventions on April 21 and the state convention on June 2. County caucuses can chose to elect their delegates either individually or as a slate, and can chose to bind those delegates to a particular presidential candidate or let them cast their presidential votes for whomever they wish.
Because of Missouri's flexible rules and multi-step caucus process, it might not be known in March how many delegates will be awarded to each presidential candidate.
Twenty-four delegates - three each from eight congressional districts - will be bound to particular presidential candidates at the April conventions and an additional 25 delegates will be bound to candidates at the June state convention. Missouri's three remaining delegates to the Republican National Convention will be the state's national committeeman and committeewoman and the state party chairman.
Missouri House Majority Leader Tim Jones said changes in the county caucus dates were unlikely to change the schedule for the April and June meetings, so he did not expect additional confusion.
"The whole caucus system this year is going to be unique because we have not had this system for some time," said Jones, R-Eureka.